Some votes are worth 22 times more than others, new research reveals

15th August 2013
15 Aug 2013
money in politics
party funding


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 Some votes are worth 22 times more than others, new research reveals

The political parties spend 22 times more on some people’s votes than on others, according to new research by the Electoral Reform Society.

The research shows that for the 2010 general election, parties spent just 14p per individual vote in Bootle, Merseyside, whereas they spent a whopping £3.07 per vote in Luton South, Bedfordshire. And the amount that parties spend is shown to have a direct impact on the likelihood that people turn out to vote.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“Elections in Britain have become the ultimate postcode lottery. The amount of money which parties spend on attracting your vote depends almost entirely on where you live. The fact that voters in Bootle are valued 22 times less than those in Luton South shows that all votes are not created equal after all.”

“If you live in a marginal seat, then parties will spend money trying to attract your vote. But if you live in a safe seat – as so many people do – then you will be all but ignored. Our report shows that where parties tighten their belts, people will be much less likely to vote.”

“In other words, the massive inequality in how much people’s votes are valued is turning people away from politics. By targeting marginal seats, parties are contributing to the problem of voter disengagement, and they are making it harder for themselves to reverse declines in party membership.”

“There are two things driving this inequality. One is the dire state of the parties’ finances, and the other is our lop-sided electoral system. Parties have scant resources and naturally want to target their spending where it will make the most difference. Our outdated voting system means that the most logical way of spending money is to target a few marginal seats. And this leaves millions of voters in the lurch.”

“If we are going to redress the imbalance, both party funding and our electoral system need to be reformed. We need properly and sustainably funded political parties incentivised to campaign across the country, not just in a few fiercely contested seats. We need a party funding system that recognises the crucial role that parties play in mobilising voters. And we need an electoral system that values each voter equally no matter where they live.”

The Electoral Reform Society’s latest report, Penny for your Vote?, also reveals that in 195 seats (30% of the total), no money was spent by any candidate on public meetings. In five seats, no money was spent by any candidate on advertising, and 348 candidates (8.6% of the total) spent no money at all on their campaigns.

The top ten most valued seats, in descending order, are: Luton South, Aberconwy, Barking, Poplar and Limehouse, Northampton North, Hampstead and Kilburn, Buckingham, Norwich South, Brighton Pavilion, and Bethnal Green and Bow.

The bottom ten least valued seats are: Bootle, Ruislip Northwood and Pinner, South Leicestershire, Halton, Sheffield Heeley, Knowsley, Leeds East, Ashton-under-Lyne, Makerfield and Beckenham.

In the 50 most marginal seats, average spending per vote was 162% higher than in the 50 safest seats, demonstrating that the main driver of inequality in spending is an electoral system that makes much of the country a no-go area even for the biggest parties.

In one seat (Motherwell and Wishaw), no money at all was spent by two of the major parties, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Financially strained parties combined with an outdated electoral system have created a situation in which half the major party candidates in a constituency spend no money on campaigning.

The research provides solid evidence that money spent on campaigning is directly correlated with people turning out to vote. This builds on previous academic research which shows that contact between parties and people through leaflets, advertising, meetings and other activities encourages people to vote.

Voters in safe seats are less likely to have resources spent on attracting their vote, and are therefore less likely even to turn up at the polling booth. As voter disengagement becomes a more and more pressing problem, so does the inequality of party spending, and so does the voting system which incentivises parties to target their resources so ruthlessly.


The report, 'Penny for your Vote?', is based primarily on analysis of the Electoral Commission's data on campaign spending for the 2010 elections.

To download a copy of the report, click here.

England let down by elections as Scotland leads the way

9th May 2012
9 May 2012
single transferable vote
first past the post


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- A tale of 6 cities and 2 very different elections

Initial analysis of last Thursday’s elections is showing a widening gulf between local democracy in England and Scotland. 
In its initial analysis of election results, focusing on six English and Scottish cities, the Electoral Reform Society has shown English voters are drawing the ‘short straw’ in their elections, with less choice and less chance of affecting the result.
Scotland abandoned First Past the Post for local government elections in 2007 and adopted the Single Transferrable Vote form of Proportional Representation. This has brought competitive elections into all the local ‘One Party States’ that once blighted Scottish politics.
Willie Sullivan, Director of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland said:
In last Thursday’s election voters across Britain went to the polls. But for voters in Scotland and England this was a tale of two Elections - and England drew the short straw.

"Scottish voters got more choice at the polls and more chance of deciding who speaks in their name in their town halls. And while most Scots got a councillor they backed for their trouble, most of the English just threw their votes away.

"Glasgow has transformed itself from rotten borough to a multi-party democracy. Scotland now has a local democracy we can all be proud of, and getting rid of First Past the Post made that possible. With the Single Transferable Vote people have got a real say on who runs their local authorities. Voters in England should settle for nothing less.”  

A tale of 6 Cities
Voter Choice
























Voters getting who they voted for (%)






Women’s representation (%)







Voting system






Estimated National Turnout

Scotland 42%

England 32%

Local Democracy Scotland can be proud of

1st May 2012
1 May 2012
single transferable vote
first past the post
uncontested seat


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Local Democracy Scotland can be proud of   As the UK heads to the polls, the Electoral Reform Society Scotland has welcomed the fact that there is not a single uncontested seat in Scottish local authorities.   

Wales alone boasts over 95 uncontested seats – with 140, 000 voters denied a say.  

In the last set of Scottish Local elections run under First Past the Post in 2003 Scotland had 61 uncontested seats. Following the shift to the Single Transferable Vote in 2007 that figure hit zero.  

Willie Sullivan, Director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland said: 

In hundreds of wards across the UK voters will not get the chance to have their say this Thursday. These elections were a done deal without a single vote being cast.  But once again Scotland has left the plague of uncontested seats behind.   

“We know that the First Past the Post system used in England and Wales and here in Scotland for Westminster elections gives us seats so safe that it’s not even worth anyone else standing.  If you’re lucky you might get a paper candidate faxed in from central office.  

“Now Scotland has a local democracy we can all be proud of. With the Single Transferable Vote people will get a real say on who runs their local authorities this week. But while we live in a fairly elected multi-party democracy we should remember our fellow voters in England and Wales, and encourage them to settle for nothing less.”  

For comment or analysis during the 2012 Scottish local election contact Willie Sullivan on 07940 523842 willie.sullivan@electoral-reform.org.uk

Vote change will 'damage democracy and devolution'

22nd November 2011
22 Nov 2011
first past the post
welsh assembly


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New figures released by the Electoral Reform Society Wales (ERS) show the extent to which Welsh Labour would disproportionately benefit if First Past The Post was exclusively adopted for future Assembly elections.

The figures are contained in a report² produced by the Society in conjunction with the Aberystwyth Institute of Welsh Politics and Prof. Roger Scully. The report details what the results in the 2011 Assembly election could have looked like under different voting systems.

The issue of electoral reform for the National Assembly is back on the agenda after the Secretary of State for Wales indicated she may change how AMs are elected.

The UK Government is likely to propose a reduction in the number of constituency AMs from 40 to 30, in line with the reduction in numbers of Welsh MPs³. To compensate, more AMs would be elected using the regional list system – 30, instead of the current 20.

Responding to this proposal, Welsh Labour has stated that it would prefer all AMs be elected by First Past The Post – two from each of the 30 constituencies with a system known as Two Member First Past The Post.

However, as ERS research reveals, Two Member First Past The Post would deny thousands of Welsh voters a voice in the National Assembly and disproportionately benefit Labour.

Steve Brooks, Wales Director of the Electoral Reform Society said:

Our research shows that Labour would have won nearly 70% of the seats in the National Assembly, had the last election been fought using Two Member First Past the Post. This is despite the fact that Labour secured around 40% of the vote.

“While this may be good news for aspiring Labour candidates, its bad news for Welsh voters. Two Member First Past The Post would rob thousands of voters of a choice and voice.

Over half of Welsh voters chose the Tories, Plaid Cymru or the Liberal Democrats in May this year, yet under Two Member First Past The Post, those parties would be left with less than a third of the seats in the Assembly. That would be damaging for democracy and damaging for devolution.”

The research from the Electoral Reform Society Wales also reveals how the different parties would fare if Wales used the Single Transferable Vote, the system used to choose MPs in Ireland.[4]

Professor Roger Scully, Director of the Institute of Welsh Politics, stated:

The Assembly voting system has already been discussed in detail by the independent Richard Commission. The Commissioners, chosen on a cross-party basis and looking at the evidence, came to the decision that 80-member STV was the most suitable voting system for a Welsh Assembly with legislative powers”.

Steve Brooks added:

Had the recommendations been implemented Labour would have secured 40 of the 80 seats. Voters would have had more of choice over who represents them locally, and who governs them nationally”.

Commenting on the row between the UK and Welsh governments on Assembly voting reform, Steve Brooks said:

A proportional system is part of the devolution package and it’s been endorsed in two referendums. How we choose our politicians is fundamental to how our democracy works. Any change to the voting system should be carefully considered, above day-to-day party politics. There needs to be a genuine cross-party dialogue with the people of Wales”.


Download the full report here: Welsh Election Report (English language version) or here: Welsh Election Report (Welsh language version)

For more information or for interview requests you can contact:

Stephen Brooks stephen.brooks@electoral-reform.org.uk, 07525619622

Owain ap Gareth owain.apgareth@electoral-reform.org.uk, 07771661802

ERS London Media Office 020 7202 8601

Summary of Findings

The report examines the outcomes of 30 constituencies with two Assembly Members (AMs) elected in each under First Past the Post (FPTP), the Single Transferable Vote (STV) and the Additional Member System (AMS): See graphs and tables of the projected election results.

Notes to Editors

1. The Electoral Reform Society Wales aims to build a better democracy by ensuring that the electoral processes of Westminster & Wales are fair and accountable. Find out more at www.electoral-reform.org.uk/wales
2. The report, written by elections experts, academic Prof. Roger Scully and ERS Wales’ researcher Dr Owain ap Gareth, the report compares projections of what the results could have looked like under different voting systems and questions the impact of the proposed Boundary Changes. The report strongly recommends that any proposed change to the voting system would also need to take into account whether it is necessary or desirable to link the National Assembly for Wales constituencies to Westminster constituencies.
3. The boundary changes instigated by the UK Government propose to cut the number of Welsh MPs from 40 to 30.

LTE - First past the post bad for democracy

28th September 2011
28 Sep 2011
first past the post
single transferable vote
excessive majorities


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029 2078 6522/3

SIR – It was disappointing to read Peter Hain’s comments resurrecting his idea that the Assembly should be exclusively elected by the first-past-the-post system (“Hain pushes for first-past-the-post voting for Assembly”, September 27).

Writing for WalesOnline during the AV referendum campaign, Hain stated that “as a democrat I cannot wish away the fact that first-past-the-post is no longer fit for purpose”.

What the Shadow Secretary of State must surely recognise is that his latter day conversion to first-past-the-post would not only be bad for Welsh democracy, but ultimately bad for Labour.

Under Hain’s plan, Labour, which secured just over two out of every five votes in this year’s Assembly election, would be rewarded with over two-thirds of the seats: a thumping supermajority giving the party a significant amount of power, and reducing the size of the opposition parties to a rump at the very time when new law-making powers calls for better scrutiny.
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Labour members should look again at Hain’s proposals as it runs contrary to Carwyn Jones’ aspiration that Labour should be a party for the whole of Wales.

2011 saw some spectacular results for Labour – but outside of South Wales the party still has much work to do.

Without the current Regional List system, Labour would have no representation and a weakened campaigning base across huge swathes of the country; areas with parliamentary seats once held by Labour and which the party must win back if it is to topple the Tories in 2015.


Director, Electoral Reform Society (Wales)
Published Western Mail